Ethiopia steps up war to support new government in Somalia

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

M.A. Shaikh

Muharram 23, 1429 2008-02-01


by M.A. Shaikh (World, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 12, Muharram, 1429)

The transitional federal government (TFG) of Somalia, which was put in power in December 2006 after the removal of the ruling Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) by the Ethiopian army – began to disintegrate last October, finally crumbling soon after its 72-year-old leader, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad, fell ill in December and was taken to Britain for medical treatment. Now the new government, a remnant of the TFG, whose name it continues to use, is also backed by the US, Ethiopia and their allies, including those in the region such as Kenya. It is not, therefore, surprising that its first head is none other than Hassan Hussein, known as Nur Adde, who was appointed prime minister by president Abdullahi Yusuf last October to replace Ali Gheddi, who had been forced to resign by sharp disagreements with his chief that set the stage for the disintegration of the TFG.

The new government has received the approval of the ‘Somali parliament', with 233 members voting in favour and five against. The parliament consists of 275 members, but almost 30 did not attend the session on January 10 to vote. The government consists of only 18 ministers, half of whom are not MPs. But this is of no significance as far as the Somali people are concerned, because the whole exercise of elections and appointment of ministers was designed to please only the US and Ethiopia, and most Somalis loathe it accordingly, while admiring and backing the UIC.

It is no exaggeration to say that any government or organisation that supports the presence of the Ethiopian army on Somali soil will not receive the support of the people; it will, instead, be opposed and probably defeated in the end. This explains why the fighters and supporters of the UIC are still in the country – and indeed in the capital – although its leaders left the country for Eritrea more than a year ago, when the US armed and financed the Ethiopian army to expel the UIC. Even highly secular Somalis back the UIC against the TFG and will oppose the new government because they recall, and miss, the high degree of peace and tranquillity introduced into the capital and other regions ruled by the UIC during the six months preceding its expulsion in December 2006.

The UIC's successful re-establishment of law and order that followed the overthrow of the military dictator, Siyad Barre, in 1991 was no mean achievement and gave it the opportunity to rule the entire country. But that was unacceptable to the US, which accused it of being a terrorist group linked to al-Qa'ida. However, its expulsion a year ago has so far failed to put the US government's fears that it might be restored to power to rest; hence the indiscriminate bombing by the Ethiopian army of areas in the capital – such as Bakkara market – each time the TFG claims, or is made to claim, that the forces of the UIC and its supporters are regrouping to take control. On December 13, for instance, a TFG official said that "radical Muslims" had regrouped and were poised to attack. Hours later mortars were fired into Bakkara market, the largest market in Muqdisho (Mogadishu, the capital), and gun-battles erupted across the city, killing at least 17 people.

This indiscriminate and murderous practice still continues, and is in fact being intensified to warn those who oppose the TFG that the US and Ethiopia are determined to continue their support for it and will not abandon the new government. On January 17, for example, the Ethiopian army repeated its attacks on Bakkara market, again firing mortar-shells and provoking strong resistance by freedom-fighters led by the UIC. According to preliminary reports, at least 13 people were killed and 75 others injured, some of them women and children. Both the dead and the injured are likely to number more than these preliminary figures, as Ethiopian tanks were also deployed in the area and fired indiscriminately on homes and people in the crowded streets. The first shell, for instance, fell on a home and killed five members of the family living there.

The conflict has already led to the murder of 6,500 people and the flight of 600,000 others, more than half of Muqdisho's population. More than a third of those fled during the five weeks before December 8 as the fighting escalated. As the Ethiopian army and the forces of the TFG continue to intensify their attacks, the number of civilians being killed or force to flee is bound to soar. The numbers of the dead and refugees are much greater than those normally announced anyway, and in any case the so-called international community has not so far shown any interest in the massacres. It is true that the odd UN official has blamedEthiopia for the onslaught, while at the same time holding the "insurgents" equally responsible. And on the rare occasion UN officials speak to the media on the issue, they withhold their names on the excuse that their activities on the ground will be affected if they offend Ethiopia.

One reason why the ‘international community' is silent on those massacres or discreetly backing their perpetrators is that the US has put Somalia at the centre of its "war on terrorism", claiming that al-Qa'ida and other ‘Islamic terrorists' are using the so-called failed state to take control of neighbouring countries and to strike at US interests in the Horn and the rest of East Africa. This explains why the US government has stepped up its presence in the region, establishing military bases in Kenya, Djibouti, Somaliland and Ethiopia, dramatically raising the levels of its aid to them, particularly Kenya, which now receives US$ 1 billion a year in military and economic assistance. While Ethiopia is an old US ally, president Bush's strong interest in Kenya, a former colony and strong ally ofBritain, is rather new and is closely linked to his "anti-terrorism strategy". His recent interest in Kenya, and his anxiety about the current unrest there, have been widely discussed in the American media.

An article in Time magazine on January 21 has summed up the issue thus: "A potential implosion in Kenya is especially worrying to the US, because the White House sees it as a frontline state in the war on terrorism, a bulwark against its volatile jihadist-infested neighbour Somalia. Terrorists have occasionally slipped across Kenya's border, as in 1998, when al-Qaeda simultaneously bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, another neighbour. In 2007 the Bush administration gave the government of presidentMwai Kibaki $1 billion in military and other aid. And there are special-operations soldiers based in Kenya at Manda Bay, on the coast just south of Somalia." According to the article, the Bush administration has "reached out to an unlikely ally," the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, to join the effort to calm Kenya. Obama's father came from Kenya and he has relatives there.

There is clearly no limit to Bush's determination to force Somalia to remain a "failed state" and to bolster its strategic enemies –Ethiopia and Kenya. He must believe that in this way he can keep Islam and Islamic groups at bay. He is right in the sense that a resurgence of the UIC will unite Somalis and improve the conditions that lead to Somalia's status of failed state.

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